US medtech acquires UCD spin-out OncoMark

16 Dec 2021

OncoMark co-founder Prof William Gallagher at UCD. Image: Mac Innes Photography

The team behind OncoMark has now gone on to start a new company, OncoAssure, to continue the development of cancer diagnostic tech.

University College Dublin (UCD) has formally announced the acquisition of spin-out company OncoMark by US molecular diagnostics company Cepheid.

Although the transaction was completed for an undisclosed sum back in March, UCD revealed details of the acquisition today (16 December) and said the OncoMark team has now gone on to start a new company called OncoAssure.

OncoMark was founded by Prof William Gallagher and Steve Penney as a spin-out from the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and the UCD Conway Institute.

The start-up developed a novel test for early-stage breast cancer called OncoMasTR, which aims to reduce the number of breast cancer patients undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy.

Following the acquisition deal, OncoMasTR will now be launched in global markets on Cepheid’s GeneXpert platform, a family of automated molecular diagnostic systems used at clinics.

Moving beyond breast cancer

Meanwhile, OncoMark’s staff have moved across to new company OncoAssure to continue the development of cancer diagnostic technologies. The team is based at NovaUCD, the university’s hub for new ventures and entrepreneurs.

Des O’Leary, the former CEO of OncoMark and now CEO of OncoAssure, expressed his pleasure that the OncoMasTR test will be brought to clinics and commercialised by Cepheid, ensuring “patients worldwide will be able to reap the considerable benefits of the test”.

He added that the OncoAssure team will now explore biomarkers in other cancers, outside of breast cancer.

“The lead product in this pipeline is a test for prostate cancer that will help clinicians identify those patients that can safely opt for active surveillance, rather than aggressive treatment,” O’Leary said.

OncoMasTR is based on a panel of genetic drivers of breast cancer, which was originally identified through research led by Prof Adrian Bracken at Trinity College Dublin and involved researchers at the UCD Conway Institute led by Gallagher. The technology was subsequently exclusively licensed by both universities to OncoMark.

Gallagher, who is a professor of cancer biology at UCD and was recently named Science Foundation Ireland’s Researcher of the Year 2021, said that Bracken and his team’s focus on the fundamental aspects of cancer cell biology “dovetailed very nicely with our interests in translational cancer research at UCD”.

Having previously won SFI’s Entrepreneurship Award for his work as chief scientific officer of OncoMark, Gallagher will continue to serve as OncoAssure’s chief scientific officer.

Tom Flanagan, director of enterprise and commercialisation at NovaUCD, commended the “entrepreneurial spirit and mindset” of OncoMark’s team in founding a new company, saying that it is an “excellent example of the quality of the spin-outs which have emerged from UCD”.

Prior to its acquisition, OncoMark was backed by investors including Kernel Capital, Irrus Investments, Galway’s HBAN medtech syndicate, Enterprise Ireland and private investors. Last month, Kernel Capital said that it earned €5m from the acquisitions of Swiftqueue and OncoMark.

Updated, 2.20pm, 16 December 2021: A previous version of this article said OncoMark was changing its name to OncoAssure following the acquisition. This was updated to clarify that the OncoMark team has started a new company called OncoAssure, which is not owned by Cepheid.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic